Cast: Suvinder Vicky, Rajbir Kaur, Gurpreet Bhangu, Harleen Kaur, Kanwaljit Singh, Harnek Aulakh
Director: Gurvinder Singh
Runtime: 115 min.
Verdict: Off screen sounds and close ups create a world of paranoia and inversion. The real narrative (collateral) of the 1980s Punjab is home invasion.
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Mr. Singh’s backgrounds here are hazy and out-of-focus. He isolates people within spaces, and between the lighting and framing – of medium shots of a group of cops talking at a railway station, or two guys waiting for a train – he seems to provide the same sort of demarcation between light and darkness, between security and insecurity that the old television serials on Doordarshan would do. He doesn’t give us any establishing shot of the railway station itself, of a continuous space so to speak, almost limiting the breathing space available around to a bare minimum. There are several shots through a door towards the outside ala The Searchers, and while Mr. Ford’s shots felt like a view from a telescope with considerable amount of breathing space for they had depth of view that was aided very well with the nature of the geography – the details of terrain – Mr. Singh’s lack depth and the monochrome green of the crops provide for a lack of detail that seems to essentially open up the house like one were to open a cardboard box. The house here feels flat, like two parallel lines pretty close by with seeming danger beyond the foreground and unknown in the background. I admit, I have never been to any rural place in any part of India, and I also feel that Mr. Singh’s Chauthi Koot is, in its form in its concerns and thereby in its very essence, a home invasion film.There is another enclosed box in the form of the ticket collector’s compartment tagging along with the rest of the train at its rear end, and it has a window through which we see the passing tracks on which the train is running. There are people sitting inside that box, after having sneaked/pushed their way in in spite of the ticket collector’s rejecting their earlier requests to let them travel, and Mr. Singh cuts this group – of two friends, a Sardarji whom the friends meet on the station, of two guys travelling from before – into little pockets. And on the off occasion he does bring them together, the grouping is so tight it lacks air. Earlier, we see those two friends, Jugal (Mr. Kanwaljit Singh) and Raj (Mr. Aulakh), walking and then running towards the station in a series of tight frames, and all of it creates a significant distrust for the space around. One of those friends happens to provide the essential service of framing the primary story of Joginder (Mr. Suvinder Vicky), the patriarch of a home seemingly in the middle of nowhere and with a fierce dog for a pet. It is a home that was built to be near the farms, a motivation I presume driven towards reassurance. But it is Punjab in 1980s and Khalsa members would be moving in the night to escape the cops and the army. They are not to be trifled with, and between the close-ups of Joginder’s fuming eyes and the off-screen barking of the dog, where one wishes it forget its barking duties from time to time and not bother the travelling Khalsa members, the controllable space (if home can be defined thus) seems to be shrinking all the time. There’re the cops too, and when they run through the house tearing it apart looking for god-knows-what you realize Mr. Singh, has inverted the overall dynamic of what constitutes domestic security. Every time the dog barks the walls seem to become that wee bit thinner. There is an off-screen sound of a bullet too, just as there is the off-screen BBC radio report on Operation Blue Star. And amidst all this, Home is no longer what it was, and it stands there naked just like the trailer in The Hills Have Eyes. Which makes you wonder if your home is where it belongs. Or you belong to that home in the first place. Or maybe, just maybe, it is better to have the ideological clarity of a dog and know for sure where your allegiances lie.